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TCEQ looks at a variety of water issues facing lege

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is one of several state agencies concerned with managing and protecting the state's water. The commission will be keeping an eye on the 83rd legislative session that convened Jan. 8 in Austin. Ongoing drought, growing population and a healthy business climate make water issues key to Texas growth.
"There are no easy answers and the challenge is daunting," offered a recent TCEQ press release. "The ongoing and unprecedented weather will present legislators with hard decisions about natural resources and the basic needs of the state's citizens."
Among the commission's key areas of concern are water supply, water rights, groundwater conservation districts, water quality, fracking, environmental flows, desalinization, watermaster program, and utility rates.
• Water supplies - Continuing drought conditions and growing populations are making finding new water supplies and conservation vitally important for public water suppliers. Lack of water can "stress businesses and have an economic impact on local communities."
TCEQ monitors a targeted list of "public water systems that have limited or an unknown water supply remaining." The commission "has offered these systems financial, managerial, and technical assistance that includes identification of alternative water supplies, coordination of emergency drinking-water planning, and identification of possible funding for alternative sources."
Some communities in Texas are considering using wastewater effluent as a source for drinking water.
• Water rights - The TCEQ plays a key role in protecting surface water rights. "As a result of the recent drought, the TCEQ established a dedicated group of regional investigators specifically trained in immediate response to water-right complaints and in conducting compliance investigations," said the commission.
• Groundwater - Groundwater Conservation Districts, like the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater Conservation District, are the state's preferred method of groundwater management. GCDs permit water wells, develop management plans, and adopt the rules necessary to implement the management plan for groundwater within the district. Legislators may consider expanding these districts to include additional counties, or create new districts. In its 83rd Legislative Report, the Texas Groundwater Protection Committee recommended adding Texas Parks and Wildlife as a member agency to the committee.
• Water quality - Keeping the state's water resources safe for drinking, swimming, fishing, aquatic life, and other beneficial uses will be challenging as demands increase. Surface water monitoring, wastewater overflows, permitting, and conservation could be considered by lawmakers this session.
Reclaimed water is treated wastewater that is safe and suitable for a purpose that would otherwise expend other valuable water resources. Domestic/municipal reclaimed water may be substituted for many applications, such as irrigation of golf courses, landscaping, fire protection, and dust suppression, that would otherwise deplete current and future drinking-water resources.
• Fracking - injecting pressurized fluid to release petroleum - could be a legislative issue as lawmakers look into how it potentially affects fresh-water supply. "Earlier this year, the TCEQ met with groups and local governments in South Texas to talk about using effluent for hydraulic fracturing," said TCEQ. The agencies website offers specific information on air, water, and waste related to oil and gas production.
• Environmental flow standards - As a result of SB 3 (80th legislative session, TCEQ also recommends environmental flow standards, the amount of water to leave in a stream or river for the benefit of the environment of the river, bay, and estuary, while balancing human needs. The current session may make adjustments to the law.
• Desalinization - The 367-mile Texas coastline is often considered the state's best resource for additional water supplies. Desalination has had legislative interest. "To increase water supplies, several coastal communities in Texas (and El Paso) are treating saline groundwater to make it potable," reported TCEQ.
• Watermaster programs - Watermaster programs are responsible for allocating, monitoring, and controlling the use of surface water in the divisions under their jurisdictions. Every five years, the TCEQ's executive director assesses the need for initiating a watermaster program in basins where programs do not currently exist.
• Utility rates - Improving the customer's ability to challenge unreasonable utility rate increases has been a continuing topic as laws are developed for investor-owned utilities (IOUs). "A Sunset Commission recommendation for the Public Utility Commission intends to transfer rate responsibility from the TCEQ to the PUC," said the TCEQ report.